Inspired. Amazed. Intrigued. Excited. EXHAUSTED.
And that’s just a bit of what I’m feeling after day 1 at the 2015 AGOSCI Conference. AGOSCI describes itself as an inclusive group interested in enhancing the participation of all people with complex communication needs. Their vision is for people with complex communication needs to participate fully in all aspects of life. No surprise then that I, as the mum of an AAC user, am a fan! AGOSCI members are speech pathologists, support workers, teachers, aides, AAC users, parents and more.
The top 4 messages that I felt were repeated to me throughout the day were:
- ALWAYS presume competence
- AAC users need access to robust communication systems all the time
- Communication partners are vital to success
- Model model model
Now, to those of us actively supporting our children or clients and believing in them and their potential to be autonomous communicators, this may seem pretty obvious. But, unfortunately we aren’t (yet) the norm. There are so many children and adults out there who do not have access to comprehensive communication systems.
We were almost one of those families, but luckily we were introduced to a wonderful speechie who chose to presume competence and model the PODD without any expectations from H to prove that he was ready for it. But that’s a post for another time.
Karen Erickson, in her opening keynote address, made an incredibly inspiring and passionate speech about the importance of literacy in AAC. It was inspiring enough to earn her the hashtag #KarenEricksonRocks on Twitter! As she explained, AAC is much broader than just a voice output device. It is all of the aided and unaided modes that people use to communicate. Thinking about Harry, that is so true and is what I am celebrating in the Harry says… posts. H uses his voice, key word sign, gesture, facial expressions, a PODD book and an iPad to communicate with us. But in order for him to say precisely what he wants to say, he needs to be literate.
As Karen said, an AAC user can learn hundreds of symbols in their communication system, so 26 uppercase letters should be pretty easy. Goosebumps.
In Jane Farrall’s session, AAC: Systemic Change for Individual Success, she stated the importance of providing every individual with complex communication needs with a communication system that enables their right to communicate. Yes, their RIGHT to communicate. Further to that, she spoke about the pivotal role that parents and all communication partners play in the success of an AAC user. Parents that instinctively know the principle of the least dangerous assumption and presume competence whilst making sure that communication is ‘all day every day’ will see the most success.
And that was certainly on display in the lecture from a wonderfully devoted mum who, after attending a previous AGOSCI conference, decided to challenge the presumption from teachers that her daughter was illiterate and take matters into her own hands. After the introduction of a robust communication system and by incorporating literacy into her AAC, she is an excellent communicator with ever-improving literacy. And I saw how well all their hard work had paid off, as I had the privilege to chat with her briefly.
Jane also spoke of the importance of learning from AAC users, which Janelle Sampson presented on earlier in the day about her AAC User Lecture Series. Who better to help us understand the complexities of being an AAC user, than AAC users!
Another mum who presented spoke of having open expectations of her son and how, when he is unsettled or throwing a tantrum, she uses communication to work through the behaviour with him. Whilst the easy thing would be to just scoop him up in her arms and cuddle him, she chooses to empower him to ‘use his words’ and to, therefore, become responsible for his behaviour.
And as Jane had said earlier in the day, behaviour doesn’t get in the way of communication, behaviour IS communication.
In the final workshop of the day, a speech pathologist spoke very honestly of the incredible responsibility that she feels to ensure every new client she meets is able to become a competent communicator and find a robust communication system that’s just right for them.
Well, from a mum, I would like to say thank you. Thank you to all the speech pathologists, support workers, teachers, aides, parents, AAC users and carers who choose to take on that responsibility and ensure that our children’s voices are heard, no matter what form their voice may take.
And that was just day 1!